Reading Reflection | ‘Learning Model for the Future’ (J. Anoun, 2017)

Reading: Aoun, J. 2017. A Learning Model for the Future. In Higher education in the age of artificial intelligence. MIT Press. pp45-75.

This was a fascinating read on proposed education for the future, mostly calling for creativity to be emphasised in HE. The author, a president of a private US university, warns of a future where we need to become ‘robot-proof’, as machines will increasingly be able to do the work of white collar jobs. There are exceptions to this, in that digital tech and machines will also mean new jobs that we cannot currently conceive of. For example, the rise in UX. But for the most part, machines are increasingly able to make decisions, ‘correct’ decisions, accumulate and analyse data and even write essays. Crucially, this is based on pre-given contexts and ‘multiple choices’. What they cannot do, yet, is create something out of nothing. They can write a better essay, but they cannot write a novel from scratch, for example. Or, a machine can predict a tsunami and global warning based on data analysis, but it cannot design a tide-proof architectural village built on plastic waste. This is why we must teach the future generations the ability to think laterally, with entrepreneurship and, in effect, creatively. If I were to preach this to my friends and family they would perhaps interpret this as my encouraging them to study art & design, but this essay argued, persuasively, that creativity is the ability to think outside the box, critically question, synthesise and, with initiative, use a multi-disciplinary approach to problem solving. Which, as it happens, I believe art & design education has given me.

I have personally had, as an artist and educator, to forge my own networks and create jobs for myself. I invented the role of Gallery Manager for a theatre I used to work at; I began a business in hen party life drawing from scratch, and I have had to apply for numerous exhibitions and residencies, knowing that the vast majority would be rejected, in order to be accepted. In essence, I do see that art & design HE, when taught and understood in the right, constructive contexts, can prepare a student for the precarious labour situation of the present and future. It might also empower a student with the following skills that Anoun advocates should be essential components to very unit, seminar and lecture:

New Literacies:

  1. Technological (we should introduce coding as part of numeracy and the alphabet)
  2. Data (we can analyse data to ‘foresee everything from the spread of a virus across a continent to an individual’s dating preferences.’ (57).)
  3. Human (‘the most powerful networks are personal relationships. . . As fields become more interdisciplinary and complex and work become more hybrid, more and more discovery is undertaken by teams’. . . (59)) Also important are the ways in which tech becomes human. For example, we need to consider the philosophical, economic political and ethical impact of AI ad future genetic modifications, and relevant required legislation.

These literacies comprise what Anoun calls humanics, but we require, according to him, to strengthen four cognitive capacities to learn these new literacies. As I list these, I will also try to consider how we may implement these in teaching sessions.

  1. Critical thinking (let us ask students to challenge us and the knowledge we impart or share)
  2. Systems thinking (let us ask students not just observe problems, but how they can tackle them in multi-faceted ways that might cut across disciplines and wider issues. For, a computer, ‘locked in the silos of its programming, it would not imagine the value of breaking out of domain-specific thinking.’ (65).)
  3. Entrepreneurship (‘Creative value in original ways’ (62). This refers not just the start-up model, which is a good independent means of making money, but also the ability to foresee of new jobs within existing industries that tech cannot yet master. ‘In this way, entrepreneurial energies are reformative.’ (67). It is true that to be entrepreneurial you must also learn to sometimes ‘fail upward’ but students might learn this experience in the safe environment of their studies, rather than more detrimental risks later in life. Perhaps, as teachers, we should ask them to experiment in more ‘real’ environments.)
  4. Cultural Agility (. . .’problem solving across borders’ (72). This one is easy to implement if we truly encourage a diverse body of students to communicate, participate and discuss on equal platforms, to learn from one another.)

What was appealing to me in this chapter was not just its theoretical proposing and idealistic pedagogies, but the very real and pragmatic need to shape future generations in terms of their employability options with regard to tech. Creativity is wonderful and fun, but also a very necessary and potentially ‘robot-proof’ skill.